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Peru

Why Intolerance Runs So Deep In Peru

As evangelical hostility to proposed same-sex civil unions demonstrates, Peruvian society has yet to embrace its own government's rhetoric of tolerance and social inclusion.

Gay Pride in Lima on June 29, 2013.
Gay Pride in Lima on June 29, 2013.
Carlos Escaffi*

-OpEd-

LIMA — This piece is motivated by the unusual, surreal and hostile march that several prominent evangelical groups in Peru recently promoted.

The May 3 protest along some of Lima’s central streets were similar to the far-from-venerable public trials during the Holy Inquisition that determined which sentence or torture was “best” to eradicate heresy. This time, demonstrators were condemning the idea of same-sex civil unions in our country.

In particular, the march opposed a bill proposed by legislator Carlos Bruce to allow civil unions between people of the same gender, which the judiciary has approved. Judges have already declared that “the project is not just viable in juridical terms, it also represents an essential expression of the fundamental rights to personal development, equality and non-discrimination.”

What, then, prompted the evangelicals’ objection? They are apparently chafing at one specific part of the bill that would allow partners in a civil union to enjoy joint property ownership, unless they decide otherwise.

Civil partners, according to this draft, would receive the same treatment and have the same rights as first relatives do, meaning they could visit their partner in the hospital or in prison. They could decide to initiate emergency surgery, receive food from their partners and acquire Peruvian nationality after two years of a civil union, if they’re foreign nationals.

Under the proposal, if one partner dies, the other could inherit the late partner’s estate. And when it comes to social security, the bill would allow an uncovered partner to be included as beneficiary in his or her partner’s health insurance plan.

Exclusion vs. inclusion

The march left me confused. I have difficulty understanding why and how such movements still exist in a country that claims to have an “inclusive” government concerned with eradicating discrimination, one that believes in freedom and equality. How can some parts of our society use freedom of expression and the right to protest only to recall the dark days of a religious orthodoxy that sought to correct idolatry, witchcraft, secret marriage among priests, bigamy, homosexuality, apostasy and other “damnable” conduct?

Thinking of the protesters’ insistent — if not outdated — arguments, I asked myself: Why don’t we see other kinds of demonstrations?

A march to rebuild the quake-hit city of Pisco, for instance, or one to fight child malnutrition in Huancavelica? What about protests against fatalities caused by reckless driving, domestic violence or the practices of hiding children from extra-marital relationships? Why not protest against bribes or disrespect to the police?

There are so many issues Peruvians could demonstrate against. Yet some of them have chosen to march not against, but in favor of, exclusion.

Anyone who tries to promote and implement real social inclusion in this country can expect to wait a good two generations, if not more, to see it happen. We clearly see an ample and deeply rooted reticence to it here.

In the end, we are still living in the sexist, intolerant and sanctimonious society of old times. This is a judgmental society excessively critical of others’ conduct, which might even justify its acts by saying this is all “God's will, because God Himself is a man.”

But when it comes to Divine Providence, let’s not forget what the Pope himself said, that we “should not condemn the divorced, and that the Church is no place for inquisitors.”

* Carlos Escaffi is a professor of international marketing at the University of Lima’s School of Business.

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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